By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Yun Theatre’s production of “In Between,” a set of new migration-themed short plays, began with a program, plus a fortune cookie, plus and an admonition from the ticket seller to pay particular attention to the cookie’s fortune. Sure enough, the fortunes contained, not homilies or witty wisdom, but a variety of cultural commentaries on Asian American political concerns.
The fortunes meant blunt business, but to Yun Theatre’s credit, the show itself displayed an invigorating mix of politics, culture, comedy, and character-driven pathos, as the seven plays explored the common theme. Under Christie Zhao’s surefooted direction, that theme expands along diverse, but always rewarding, avenues.
“Baby Bird Flies,” written by Maya Fleischmann, featured a young man (played by Van Liu) doing Qi Gong with his grandmother (Zoe Ding). Through the grandmother’s patient instruction, and the impeccable dignity of Ding played a character playing several decades older than herself, the love of the two for each other emerged, but also their impatience, their coming rift, and the deep fears, alongside her affections, held by the old woman. The poetic names for different Qi Gong positions offered their own symbolic commentary.
Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin’s “Saudade” (a Portuguese word defined as a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia), followed another pair, this time an Asian American couple (Liu again, plus Jen Lee) through daily rituals of greeting, cooking, joking, but also brooding, because the U.S. government might deport Liu’s character because of a long-ago criminal charge. They kept brave faces as they fretted about what “this administration” might do. I thought quickly of our most recent former President—though I’d learned from this evening that immigrant experiences aren’t as simple as Bad Guy Trump vs. Good Guy Biden.
“La Tiza/Chalk,” from Catalina Florina Florescu, compared and contrasted the immigrant experiences of two ladies, one Latinx (Iveliz Martel), one Chinese (Xinyuan Zhang). As they move along twin paths experiencing racism, discrimination, and menace from the American government, their feelings, and their words overlapped, sometimes sounding together.
“Itch,” from Harvey Yang, marked the most humorous and surrealistic episode of the evening. In a hypothetical barnyard reside one horse (Zhang again), one donkey (Lee again), and one mule (Ding again). Neither wholly horse nor wholly donkey, the mule must find a way to outwit them both, gaining enough water and feed to survive. It’s an inspired parable with distinct echoes of George Orwell’s famous “Animal Farm.”
After intermission, Rebecca Chan’s “Afterlife” posits life after death as an endless series of airports, with planes taking off, landing, shuttling the dead between different destinations, but always off, in the end, to another airport. A young woman from the mortal side (Abigail Tsai) met with the deceased grandmother (Zhang again) who’s inspired so much of her own life and ideology. The younger woman must learn what she got right, and what she got wrong, from the older woman’s teachings, before time comes to part again.
“Buddha Hall,” written by Renzi Li, waxed metaphysical, as a wanderer (Lee again), and a child (Ding again), moved through a Buddhist temple which is sometimes intact, sometimes destroyed, sometimes holy, sometimes desecrated, sometimes an ultimate destination, sometimes a reminder that all journeys, or at least all transformative journeys, ultimately occur within. The two actors moved fluidly and confidently through every position, every assumed part.
An emergency prevented me from watching the last play of the evening., Jillian Blevins’ “The 18th Quinquennial Endlings Picnic,” which brought together five of the six cast members (all except Tsai) as a gaggle of endangered species, gathering for a frolic. I will assume, however, that it’s on a level with all the previous plays.
A small band lead by YUELAN, and featuring keyboardist YIYI, Yihan Lin on guzheng, and Tina Deng or Josh Valdez on drums, furnished commentary in the form of song and instrumental music throughout, mixing original material with classical motifs. All in all, a brisk and challenging evening of emotions, ideas, and art.
“In Between” from Yun Theatre plays through Aug. 27 at Center Theater at Seattle Center Armory, Lower Level. For prices, showtimes, and other information, visit https://yun-theatre.com/in-between .